War with the Newts, Paperback Book

War with the Newts Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (6 ratings)

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Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.

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Review by
4
Say what you will, the Newts have brought enormous progress to the world, as well as an idea called Quantity. 'We people of the Newt Age,' is a phrase uttered with justified pride; good heavens, how can you compare us with that outmoded Human Age with its ponderous, finicky and useless fuss that went by the name of culture, the arts, pure science, and what have you! Real, self-assured Newt Age people will no longer waste their time meditating on the Essence of Things; they will be concerned solely with numbers and mass production.It all starts when some pacific islanders warn a Czech sea captain against going to Devil Bay in his search for pearls. What he finds there is a group of enormous newts that can walk on their hind-legs and seem strangely intelligent. He gives them knives to defend themselves against sharks in return for bringing him pearl oysters, and then starts shipping them to other islands to dive for oysters there.From this small beginning, the newts that were originally found on just one atoll, gradually colonise the coastlines of the world, as first businessmen and then governments find them useful for underwater building, dredging harbours and defending their coasts. But the newts are much more intellgent than originally thought, and as one female can produce 100 young each year, the situation is unlikely to stay stable for long. A 1930s satire on politics, slavery, science and much more, by the author who first invented the robot. Very good indeed!
Review by
5

I love this story...as true now as it was in early 20th century. It is about so much, but mostly about treating those who are deemed inferior as something less than human, which proves to be a fatal mistake, even when the creature is not human

Review by
5

Out-friggin'-standing! Literature, sci-fi, satire, philosophy -- call it what you will, but Capek -- writing in the mid-1930's during Hitler's rise to power -- gives us a very funny, very scary sendup of humanity. Cross Solzhenitsyn with Twain... with Vonnegut and perhaps a grade B sci-fi flick and you get this brilliant work!

Review by
4

This book is the English translation of the Czech original Válka s Mloky, one of the best known works by Capek, arguably the greatest Czech author of the first half of the 20th Century. This book is one of the great dystopias of 20th Century's literature. A new species of giant and intelligent newts is discovered in Southeast Asia and their intelligence and working capacities are exploited more and more heavily by the humans. Their economic and military importance is slowly built up by small and unrelated steps until the survival of human civilization and the very existence of earth's continents are in jeopardy. An hilarious critique of human civilization and the greed and disregard for consequences inherent in much of our decisions.

Review by
4.5

Before (or after?) he initiated a worldwide apocalyptic war in The Absolute at Large, G.H. Bondy also contributed to the rise of intelligent newts which would have similarly disastrous results. War with the Newts compares to the earlier book in other ways as well – both examine the world undergoing extreme upheavals, through quick-cut scenes of ordinary people and a journalistic eye, resulting in novels with a fairly unconventional structure. (He also used this structure by necessity in some of his plays – the famous R.U.R, where a robot rebellion was shown through the discussion of his characters, and The White Plague, where the effects of a horrible pandemic were shown by quick cuts to multiple people at all levels of society.) The Absolute at Large was written after the tumult of WWI and describes another pan-European conflict. War with the Newts, published in 1936, shows the newly discovered intelligent newt race as both an oppressed group and aggressors bent on expanding their dominion, reflecting the rising nationalist, fascist and far-right movements in the 1930’s. This might make it seem as if both would be pretty depressing reads but they are quite entertaining and occasionally comical. Capek’s warm humanistic outlook fills the pages but War with the Newts is a considerably darker book. War with the Newts opens with Captain van Toch discovering the “devils” living near a small island off the coast of Sumatra – a race of large, intelligent newts. He takes a liking to them and arms them to help ward off predators. The captain comes to think of them as his children and finds that they are easily trained to retrieve pearls. Back in Czechoslovakia, van Toch starts a business enterprise with G.H. Bondy. Bondy also appeared in The Absolute at Large and is supposed to be the money-obsessed entrepreneur who sets off the chaos. However, in both books I couldn’t help liking him as he seems more stuck in his role and thinks sentimentally of the captain out having adventures and caring for his newts. Mr. Povondra, Bondy’s doorman, is the one who lets van Toch present his business arrangement to Bondy and for years afterwards thinks of his role in the spread of the newts. Povondra is Capek’s Czech everyman and periodically the author checks in with him. Povondra also amasses a collection of articles and papers about the newts which make up a good portion of the book.van Toch’s intervention results in a massive newt expansion and they start showing up far from their native island. Capek describes several encounters between newts and other sailors or vacationing people. With Bondy’s help, the world is introduced to the newts and there are scientists analyzing them or zookeepers making new discoveries. Newts are used for underwater projects or manual labor instead of just pearl fishing. Povondra’s cuttings are fun to read and add a nice verisimilitude to the story of the newts, as well cataloging their spread over the years. They also cover a variety of issues related to newt-human relations. One issue, for example, is whether newts have a soul and Capek provides amusing quotes from famous people (Toscanini – I have never seen a Newt, but I am convinced that creatures which have no music do not have a soul either. G.B. Shaw – They certainly have no soul. In this they resemble man.). The treatment of worker newts is another problem, and a newts-rights movement springs up, much like the movement for any other oppressed group. Some call for education or regulation and the lives of a couple exceptional “model” token newts are described. Human workers also have issues with competition and employer unfairness and push for protectionist laws. As in The Absolute at Large, Capek is able to cover the opinions and thoughts of a wide range of society using this journalistic method. It’s also very interesting to read. The horrible treatment of the newts – for example, the illegal newt trade, which involves brutally capturing wild newts, or vicious attacks on worker newts – bears comparison to plenty of historical atrocities. The third section is the one that actually covers the war. Descriptions of fighting, however, are related in a similar reporting fashion, the same style as in The Absolute. Capek narrates the actions of various governments or the thoughts of ordinary people. It is entirely appropriate that he ends with Mr. Povondra. The Absolute at Large also had a global war/apocalypse but the ending was almost back to normal, with ordinary characters sighing over the foibles of humanity. The later novel ends on both a depressing note and a final, questioning, open chapter. Readers might think that the ending is a cop-out but I thought it was a fitting end to this odd, metafictional work. Capek, in fact, did not live to see all the atrocities perpetuated by the Nazis (nor would he have fared well under the Communists, given that he wrote an essay titled “Why I Am Not a Communist” where one of his reasons is “because I am on the side of the poor.”) In light of what would come, the last perplexed, uncertain chapter is entirely appropriate.

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